North Carolina fans saw a lot to like from their future stars at the 2014 McDonald's All-American Game at Chicago's United Center.
Point guard Joel Berry II (Apopka, Fla.) helped the West team to a 105-102 win over wings Theo Pinson Jr. (Greensboro, N.C.), Justin Jackson (Tomball, Texas) and the rest of their East team. Jackson's efforts were key to keeping the game close, as he led all scorers with 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
The numbers are nice, but how did the UNC commits perform individually against their elite high school peers?
Joel Berry II
Berry was well-prepared for the Tobacco Road throwdown, working well against future Duke counterpart Tyus Jones. Berry finished with seven points and four assists in his 16 minutes. The first basket of the second half was an impressive one, as Berry rejected a screen and drove around a distracted Jones, who was perhaps bracing for impact with sculpted Stanford commit Reid Travis.
Berry started the second half with a couple of quick baskets, but he was not a major presence as the game tightened up late. He sat for the final six-plus minutes. North Carolina, like Berry's West team, will have two other capable point guard options in Marcus Paige and Nate Britt, so there will likely be nights next season where Berry is more spectator than spark plug.
When Berry was in the game, he demonstrated the ability to run the offense without forcing attempts to take the game over. He'll work well alongside capable scorers like Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo. (UPDATE: McAdoo declared for the NBA draft Thursday.)
“It was a great experience,” said Berry, as quoted by Zack Pearson of Keeping It Heel. “I went out there and did what I had to do, as a point guard I was unselfish and gave the ball to the other guys to let them do what they had to do. Overall it was a great experience and I enjoyed myself.”
Jackson did a fantastic job of finding openings in the West's defense. Most of his baskets were easy layups, whether in transition or off the offensive glass. Jackson followed his nose toward the rim when he saw the chance, putting himself in great position to receive passes when the defense broke down. Either way, he demonstrated a great ability to play without the ball.
Of course, the All-American Game is rarely noted for its attention to defensive detail, so it's unwise to expect this kind of efficiency immediately when Jackson begins suiting up for the Tar Heels.
At one point, the lanky Texan knocked down nine consecutive shots, capped off with a three-pointer with less than seven minutes to go in the game. However, he did not score again after that shot. Jackson missed his last three attempts, including a drive that could have tied the game had it not been altered by a looming Jahlil Okafor.
As a team, the East made only five threes all night, so Jackson's jumper wasn't a major part of the attack. Credit him, though, with superior shot selection, getting inside when he could and not settling for show-off jump shots.
When Jackson tried to make things happen in a half-court offense, results were mixed. He committed one turnover on a carelessly lobbed pass in the first half. Another nearly came in the second when Jackson hemmed himself into a corner trying to drive the baseline around 7'0" UCLA signee Thomas Welsh.
Perhaps Jackson's biggest highlight-reel play came with about a minute left in the first half, when he hurled an outlet pass over nearly three-quarters of the court for an easy layup by Ohio State signee D'Angelo Russell.
Five rebounds, three of them offensive, showed that Jackson could scrap among the trees and get his own second chances. He'll still need more muscle, though, before he's doing it in more physical regular-season competition.
Overall, though, Jackson's game was strong enough to make him the third Tar Heel recruit in five years to claim an MVP award at the McDonald's game, joining Harrison Barnes (2010) and James Michael McAdoo (2011).
Theo Pinson Jr.
Pinson produced what may have been the entire game's biggest highlight when he threw down a thunderous jam in the face of Kansas recruit Kelly Oubre Jr. Entrepreneurial Chapel Hill undergrads should examine the possibility of starting a poster-printing business, as the explosive Pinson may put home enough of these dunks to make such a venture profitable.
Unfortunately, that slam was Pinson's only field goal of the night. A couple of his shots were foolish jumpers early in the shot clock, the kind that will get a freshman securely strapped to the bench by a coach like Roy Williams.
There were also a couple of attempted alley-oops that went awry, efforts by Pinson's teammates to set him up for SportsCenter moments. Those are also moments that Pinson must get out of his system before he takes the court in a college setting.
Pinson demonstrated his speed and quickness on both ends, occasionally running the break on offense and contesting ball-handlers on defense. He made a pretty end-to-end drive in the second half, capping it with a no-look assist to a future rival, Duke recruit Justise Winslow.
He was tasked with guarding SMU signee Emmanuel Mudiay in the second half, but Mudiay got the better of the matchup more often than not. No shame in that, as Mudiay will make countless players look foolish before his career is over.
It may be natural to gauge the incoming Tar Heels against their future Duke rivals. If taken on that basis, the UNC trio was outplayed by the new Blue Devils.
Jackson was a highly effective scavenger, but many of his scoring opportunities would see him hammered and sent to the foul line outside of an All-Star environment. Pinson wanted his highlights, and that's another issue that will be remedied after a few North Carolina practices.
As far as scoring opportunities, Berry and Jones frequently played each other to a standstill, but a few of Jones' game-high 10 assists came around Berry's defense. Both were true pass-first floor generals. That should continue next season as both will be surrounded by plentiful scoring options in college, just as they were in this game.
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